Rounding the 5 Great Southern Capes

...plus one

In addition to finishing our circumnavigation when we arrived in Cape Town, we also completed the rounding of the Five Great Southern Capes plus Cape Agulhas, the most southern point in Africa.

5 southern capes

It was never our intent to round all the southern capes. Heck, it was never really our intent to circumnavigate the world, come to think of it. It's our “just a little further” philosophy that got us around. We like sailing. We enjoy the cruising life. We love travel. We just got carried away, always going just a little further and here we are writing a recap of the five great southern capes.

Cape Horn, Chile
12 February 2006

Probably the most memorable cape of all the capes was Cabo de Horno … Cape Horn, at the tip of South America. It was our first great cape and we approached it with healthy mix of temerity and trepidation. Rounding Cape Horn these days on a yacht isn't quite like the clipper ships of yesteryear who had no weather forecasts and took whatever Neptune was handing out when they arrived. No, we had the luxury of waiting  for a reasonable weather window … and we did. We had to request a special zarpe (permit) from the Chilean Armada to make the trip from Puerto Williams. We knew there were safe anchorages along the way in case we needed them. Despite all this, we were still apprehensive. It's the most southern of the southern capes dipping down to 56ºS, well into the furious 50s.

cape horn

There were several fellow cruisers who were planning the same trip, but we were alone for our rounding. With extra crew aboard and on a calm day, it's possible to stop at the lighthouse, sign the log and visit the little museum at Cabo de Horno. We were short-crewed, just us and Jelly, and by the time we spotted the lighthouse, it was anything but calm. What started out as a tranquil, quiet rounding, ended up with 50 knot winds and we sought out a hidey-hole and hunkered down in Caleta Martial for three subsequent days. It was exhilarating and a bit scary all at the same time.

South West Cape, New Zealand
10 February 2011

Almost five years later to the day, we rounded South West Cape in New Zealand at the tip of Stewart Island. We'd left from Opua on the northeast coast of the North Island with the intent of circumnavigating the country. It seemed like a good idea at the time. New Zealand's wild and rugged west coast offers little in the way of protected ports until Fiordland on the South Island. In Fiordland, there are lots of little nooks and crannies to tuck into, but other than Milford Sound, there's not much in the way of amenities. In fact, it's a pretty desolate area, abounding in untouched beauty.  It was an overcast, gray day as we doubled South West Cape with enough wind to sail and more birds in the sky than we'd ever seen before. Stewart Island remains one of our most pleasant cruising experiences. It is the second most southern cape at 47ºS, high in the Roaring 40s.

south west cape

South East Cape, Tasmania, Australia
9 March 2012

Once we had South West Cape under our belts, the urge to round the other three capes started gnawing at us. We'd done the hardest two, what's three more? So when we arrived in Australia and most of the other cruisers were heading north towards Asia, we sailed south across the Bass Strait  to Tasmania, and back into the Roaring 40s. Tassie was one of the those destinations on our bucket list that we weren't sure we'd ever get to … never mind circumnavigate. Crossing the strait is tough enough, but tackling Tassie's west coast was a challenge. We found respite in Strahan and up the Gordon River in Macquarie Harbour and then further down the coast at Port Davey. Again, desolate, hard-to-get-to places that were supremely beautiful and all the more special because of their inaccessibility.

port davey

Once again, we chose an appropriate weather window of light southwesterly winds for rounding South East Cape on the southern tip of Tasmania. It was calm enough to enjoy, but not a particularly scenic or distinguishable cape. On cue, the wind picked up late in the doubling and we sought refuge in the Pigsties of Recherche Bay for a few days.

south east cape

Cape Leeuwin, Western Australia
21 April 2014

We were late in the season for rounding Cape Leeuwin and feeling quite anxious about it. We were moored in Albany and cast off the moorings at first light on Easter morning. The winds were light southwesterly as we motored across King George Sound back into the Southern Ocean. With 166 nm to go, we were hoping the fickle winds of the south Western Australia coast would hold true to forecast. It was a two day, one night trip with few options for refuge if the weather changed. Neptune smiled on us with 15-20 knot winds for the entire passage, including the rounding of Cape Leeuwin. With mild weather and calm winds, we anchored in Port Hamelin for the night before heading out early the next morning for the fine anchorages of Geographe Bay.

cape leeuwin

Cape Agulhas, South Africa
29 March 2015

Though it's not considered one of the “great” southern capes, Cape Agulhas happens to be the most southern point on the continent of Africa and the dividing point between the Indian and Atlantic Oceans.

cape agulhas

We had to pass it en route from Mosselbaai to Cape Town, and it deserves its own mention. We rounded Cape Agulhas in the middle of the night, and thus, the only picture was of the tot of rum that David offered Neptune as we rounded. As capes go, Agulhas was benign and a non-event … our favorite.

cape agulhas

Cape of Good Hope, South Africa
1 April 2015

We had stood on the Cape of Good Hope, but never rounded it in Nine of Cups. Waiting for a weather window on the South African coast is a test of patience and belief in weather forecasts. The marine weather forecast changes not only daily, but sometimes by the minute. We were positioned in Simon's Bay with only a 60-mile daytrip necessary to round the Cape of Good Hope, the last of the five great capes. We motor-sailed out of False Bay under overcast skies and headed for Cape Point, the Cape of Good Hope. We couldn't have asked for calmer, flatter seas en route. We relaxed and enjoyed the rounding, having ample time for pictures and posing. The west side of the Cape had us reefing down and hanging on to our hats in 30-40 knot winds.

cape of good hope

As is our tradition for rounding all the capes and at the beginning and end of all passages, we toasted Neptune. He got a double tot on our arrival in Cape Town. We were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves … downright chuffed. Completion of our circumnavigation and rounding the last of the five great southern capes … not bad for a day's work.